Monday, 2 March 2015

Updated Malazan World Map

Readers of the Malazan novels by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont will be aware that the novels range freely over a vast and complex world consisting of numerous continents and islands, not to mention other planes of reality. To date, the authors have resisted the creation of an authorised world map, but fans have been busy combining the maps from the novels to create the next best thing. This is the latest attempt, based on the excellent maps created by forum member D'rek at with some of my own minor changes.

Click to embiggen.

A few notes:

The entire south-western two-thirds of the Seven Cities continent is conjecture, although backed up by a detailed narrative description in The Bonehunters.

The 'middle bit' of Lether and the south coast of the continent is conjecture, but heavily supported by a rough world map provided by Steven Erikson to the administrators of The placement of the continent is also by word of Erikson, with its eastern coast being due south of western Seven Cities.

The placement of Jacuruku is conjectural, but based on the directions on the maps. These show the Ocean/Strait of Storms as being located to Jacuruku's north-east. Also, Jacuruku is identified in Memories of Ice as being the "sister continent" of Korelri, and a god is able to stride from one continent to another which suggests a closer relationship. The Fall of the Crippled God also shattered north Korel, damaged Jacuruku and smashed the east coast of Lether, which works with this configuration. Finally, the White Spires Ocean (Explorer's Sea) is shown on the south coast of Jacuruku in the Blood and Bone maps, off the east coast of Kolanse in The Crippled God and is described as lying to the west of Stratem in Return of the Crimson Guard, pushing Jacuruku further north.

It should be noted that Korelri/Fist is probably much too large on this map. The map in Stonewielder shows Malaz Isle being much larger in relation to the continent. This also supports the idea of Korelri being the sister continent of Jacuruku, which makes sense if Korelri is smaller and closer in size to it. Assail suggests that Stratem is still quite large, so it may make more sense to have Stratem as the main continental landmass and Korelri as its subcontinent.

Assail is located due south of Genabackis as per the novel Assail, just a relatively short hop across the Galatan Sweep. The Bloodmare Ocean is located off Assail's south-western coast per the description in the novel, with the Reacher's Ocean located to the due west of the continent as per the map. The south coast of Assail is conjectural, but the descriptions of the continent in both Return of the Crimson Guard and Assail suggest that Bael (the lands south of the Black Sea and Blackstone Mountains) is a much smaller subcontinent of Assail on its south coast, so there probably isn't much more to what we see on the map.

The following map shows the borders of the Malazan Empire in c. 1160 Burn's Sleep, around the time that Gardens of the Moon (and thus the whole series) begins.

This maps shows the Empire in firm control of Quon Tali (its home continent), Seven Cities and territories it has seized in northern Genabackis, although these conquests are heavily disputed by the Free Cities, allied to the Crimson Guard and other mercenary companies. At this time Malazan armies are also located in Fist (the north-eastern-most island of the Korelri landmass), but are getting their backsides handed to them and contact has been lost for years, so I decided not to include that in the Empire's territory.

What follows is a list of major geographical locations and what novels take place in those locations.

Genabackis: Gardens of the Moon, Memories of Ice, House of Chains (prologue), Toll the Hounds, Orb Sceptre Throne
Seven Cities: Deadhouse Gates, House of Chains, The Bonehunters
Quon Tali/Malaz Isle: The Bonehunters, Night of Knives, Return of the Crimson Guard
Western Seven Cities: The Bonehunters
Lether: Midnight Tides, Reaper's Gale, Dust of Dreams
Eastern Lether/Kolanse: Dust of Dreams, The Crippled God
Korelri: Stonewielder
Jacuruku: Blood and Bone Stratem: Return of the Crimson Guard, Assail
Assail/Bael: Return of the Crimson Guard, Assail

For the upcoming books, Steven Erikson's Kharkanas Trilogy (set 300,000+ years before the main series) takes place in an unknown location which may or may not be part of the Malazan planet. The following Toblakai Trilogy will likely be partially set in northern Genabackis, but may range much more widely. Ian Esslemont's next novel, Dancer's Lament, kicks off a series of novels about the founding of the Malazan Empire and will likely be set on Malaz Isle and Quon Tali.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

RIP Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played arguably the most iconic role in all of science fiction, Star Trek's Mr. Spock, has passed away at the age of 83.

Born in Boston, Nimoy was a veteran of stage and screen before being cast in Star Trek in 1964. He appeared in the pilot episode, The Cage, and has the distinction of uttering the first line ever recorded for the franchise ("Check the circuit!"). The pilot was not picked up but NBC ordered a second pilot episode called Where No Man Has Gone Before. Much of the cast was replaced, but series creator Gene Roddenberry fought to keep Nimoy in the role of Spock even after studio execs objected to the character's scary appearance. Throughout the three seasons of the original Star Trek series, Spock was a central character and a friendly rivalry developed between Nimoy and William Shatner over who would get the most lines. Fans considered the relationship between Nimoy, Shatner and DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy as the core of the show and the secret to its success.

After Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, he moved to its studio sister show Mission: Impossible, playing secret agent Paris for two seasons. He had frequent television and film appearances throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Initially appreciative of the opportunities given from playing Spock, he became more ambivalent about the role, blaming it for typecasting. In his first autobiography, I Am Not Spock (1975), he conducts an internal dialogue between himself and the Spock character in an attempt to explore this dichotomy. It is sequel, I Am Spock (1995), he concludes that role was more positive than not.

The ambivalence continued when Star Trek returned in the late 1970s. The initial plan, for a new TV series, would have featured Spock only in an occasional recurring role as a distant mentor to a new Vulcan character, Xon. When the proposed series, Star Trek: Phase II, was cancelled and transformed into a feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Nimoy was convinced to return to the role. He planned to skip the sequel until the studio and director Nicholas Meyer enticed him to return with the promise of a memorable death scene. Nimoy worried this would be exploitative but was instead stunned by the scale of the response to the scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). He agreed to return to both play a 'reborn' version of the character and also direct the next two films in the franchise, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). After the muted response to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Nimoy got involved in the writing of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and also agreed to appear in a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to tie in with the film. Nimoy considered this a fitting capstone to the character and chose not to accept a cameo in Star Trek: Generations (1994), feeling it did not service the character well.

Nimoy continued to act on stage and screen, as well as narrating documentaries and providing voice work for video games. In 2005 he agreed to provide the voice-overs for the hugely successful strategy game Civilization IV, with his vocal performance being highly praised. In 2008 he met with J.J. Abrams to discuss the latter's rebooting of the Star Trek franchise with a new film (released in 2009). Initially he gave advice and approved the casting of Zachary Quinto as the young Spock, but then agreed to appear in a limited role explaining how the new timeline had been created. Quinto later cited Nimoy's presence as being extremely helpful and the two became good friends, appearing in an amusing car advert together. Nimoy enjoyed working with Abrams and writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci so much that he agreed to appear in a recurring role on their then-ongoing television series Fringe as Dr. William Bell, as well as reprising Spock (for the last time) for a very brief appearance in Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013).

Nimoy's passing has attracted condolences from across Hollywood, American President Barack Obama, co-stars and NASA astronauts, who made their own special salute to the actor from the International Space Station.

Nimoy passed away on 27 February at his Los Angeles home. He'd been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which Nimoy blamed on the smoking habit he'd only given up in his 50s. Nimoy is survived by his wife, two children, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Live long and prosper." - Leonard Nimoy, 22 February 2015

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The 100: Season 1

AD 2149. Ninety-seven years after a nuclear war devastated the Earth, more than two and a half thousand people live in refuge on an orbiting space station, the Ark. With life support beginning to fail, the ruling council of the Ark decides to see if Earth is survivable by sending down a hundred criminals. As adult criminals are executed to save food and air, this means sending down young delinquents.

As the hundred exiles fight to survive on Earth - and later against the other survivors they discover living in the woods - the inhabitants of the Ark also fall into an internal power struggle as it becomes clear that the station cannot support them for much longer, and not everyone can survive to make it to the ground.

The 100 is a post-apocalyptic drama that seems to take great delight in its inspirations: the show comes across as the result of a collision between Battlestar Galactica, Lost, The Hunger Games and Fallout. The show adroitly fuses its inspirations in fun and original ways and ends up being a lot more entertaining than it has any right being, but it does take a little while to get there.

The show is the product of American network The CW, famed its glossy productions featuring preposterously photogenic young actors engaging in life-and-death struggles whilst also trying to straighten out their elaborately complicated love lives. The 100 somehow manages to turn this tendency up to 11: characters angst about their personal relationships almost at the same level they worry about starvation, dehydration, being impaled by spears and radiation sickness, all of which are constant and simultaneous threats. This would risk being silly, except for the odd hints that the writers are deliberately sending up this aspect of the network's shows. The series also gets away with it because it is also one of the most surprisingly brutal television shows on air. Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have made shocking main character deaths more accepted on cable, but for a more youth-oriented series The 100 is startlingly bleak. We get population counts for both the exiles on the ground and the survivors on the Ark and both numbers drop at a rate of knots as the season progresses and the writers gleefully take an axe (or gun, or airlock, or plague, or in one highly memorable moment, a giant metal shuriken thing) to the cast.

The show gets off to a mixed start, being both unafraid to kill over apparently major players from the off but also unleashing some of the most ham-fisted, expositionary and clumsy writing you'll see on television all year. Characters initially come across as being very archetypal (or, if you're less kind, cliched as hell) and the actors initially seem unsure how to handle the material they are given. Henry Ian Cusick, in his first major TV role since playing Desmond on Lost, is both saddled with a dubious accent and some poor characterisation and can only respond by hamming it up for the first few weeks. Dialogue is poor and little reason is given for us to care about any of these characters.

Fortunately, that changes and fairly quickly. By the sixth episode the writers have added a lot of ambiguity and (relative) complexity to the characters, the actors have much more layered material to work with and the show becomes a bit more experimental, not afraid to ditch half the cast for a week or two in favour of flashbacks to add depth and backstory. The writers also become quite good at creating internal conflict within the characters, giving them more to do than just stand around and look pretty.

This is helped by some fairly intense pacing. The series is uninterested in adopting a format and sticking with it, with shifts in factions, locations and motivations taking place on a near-weekly basis. The initial split between the ground and the space station is well-handled, despite it occasionally feeling like you're watching episodes of Lost and BSG that have been fan-spliced together (the presence of actors from both shows - particularly BSG - not helping). When our heroes on the ground find a mysterious hatch in the forest (albeit one that opens immediately and not after a tediously-drawn out 16-episode struggle) and characters in orbit wrestle with their consciences as they have to ration supplies and blast a traitor out of the airlock, The 100 feels like it is risking becoming a parody of those other series. However, the show then moves into other territory, becoming more confident and forging its own path. The season finale, which not so much changes the premise as drives a bulldozer through it and then burns down the remains, is the most game-changing cliffhanger in a series in recent times.

The actors are, for the most part, likable. The younger castmembers bring enthusiasm and gumption, although some are more experienced than others (Eliza Taylor did her time in the trenches of Australian daytime soap opera). More veteran actors are used to populate the Ark and, after that initial writing hurdle in the first few episodes, are great. However, the show's flirtation with killing off Chancellor Jaha gets a little old. Clearly they realised that Isaiah Washington is too good to off so easily, but it'd be better if they stopped putting him in near-death situations every other week. The weak spot is the handling of romance, which is trite. Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) and Lincoln (Ricky Whittle) fall in love without exchanging a word (although later on they do manage to earn it back), whilst the budding romance between Clarke (Taylor) and Finn (Thomas McDonell) is hamstrung by the utter lack of any chemistry at all between the two actors. Fortunately the writers seem to cotton onto this and use it to their advantage later on. As the season progresses there is also less time for teen stuff as the prospect of all-out war rears its head and some new, more enigmatic enemies enter the fray.

For its first season, The 100 (***½) starts off pretty poor but improves rapidly to become a solidly entertaining show. The writing starts out clumsy and the dialogue jarring, but it gets better. The characters become a lot more interesting and conflicted and the show gleefully subverts audience expectations at almost every turn. Certainly worth a look, especially as the second season so far has been a big improvement. The first season is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray).

Monday, 23 February 2015

New cover art from Sanderson & Abercrombie

Tor have revealed the American cover art for Shadows of Self, the fifth Mistborn novel from Brandon Sanderson and the second of four books featuring the characters of Wax and Wayne. The book will be out in October this year and will rapidly be followed by its sequel, Bands of Morning, in January 2016.

Meanwhile, Del Rey have unveiled the American cover for Half a War, the concluding volume of The Shattered Sea Trilogy. This book will be out on 16 July in the UK and 28 July in the USA and concludes the story begun in Half a King and Half the World.

No word yet on if Abercrombie and Sanderson will ever collaborate on a novel, possibly one where swearing forms the basis for an imaginative magic system.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

New ALIEN film confirmed

20th Century Fox have commissioned director Neill Blomkamp to work on a new Alien film. The director of District 9, Elysium and Chappie had hinted he was working on ideas for a new film in the franchise a few months ago.

The new project is proceeding simultaneously alongside Ridley Scott's Prometheus II. Scott had previously suggested that the sequel to Prometheus would move away from even the vague connections to the xenomorphs the original film had in favour of the mythology and backstory of the Engineers. Whilst Fox is okay with this - Prometheus grossed almost half a billion dollars at the box office - they also seem to want to continue the core Alien franchise at the same time.

Little is known about the new film, although in Blomkamp's concept art it appears he was considering a 'proper' Alien 5 with Sigourney Weaver and possibly even Michael Biehn reappearing in their roles as Ripley and Hicks. The fact that Hicks died (controversially off-screen) in Alien 3 has hinted that Biehn might be following Scott's idea that none of the films after Aliens should be considered canon. I can't see Fox entirely being happy with that (it would remove no less than four films from the canon) unless they thought it would make them a ton of cash.

If work is only starting now, it's unlikely we will see Alien 5 before late 2017 or early 2018 at the earliest. This would make for easily the longest gap in the main series since the franchise started in 1979. It remains to be seen if Blomkamp can breathe some new life into this increasingly tired foe.

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mark is one of the most resourceful men alive: smart, cunning and trained in combat and subterfuge with a brilliant talent for information analysis. He is also weighed down by the knowledge that he is a clone of a more famous and more effective military commander: Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar. Infiltrating the Dendarii mercenaries by posing as his 'brother', Mark embarks on a vengeful attack on the genetic laboratories on Jackson's Whole. This sets in motion a chain of events that will change his life, and that of his brother, forever.

Mirror Dance is, chronologically, the ninth novel in The Vorkosigan Saga and one of the most vitally important in terms of both the metaplot and character. It starts off in a rather traditional way for the series, with a mission for the Dendarii that appears to be straightforward and then rapidly becomes complicated. The difference here is that it is Mark who has set up the mission and it becomes painfully obvious that, for all his gifts, he is not Miles. Bujold plays a clever game here, since it would be implausible for the Dendarii (who know that Miles has a clone) to fall for Mark's deception so easily, so she has to set up a situation where they would plausibly go along with the plan in any case. Some dangling plot elements established as long ago as The Warrior's Apprentice are exploited ingeniously to do this.

The book opens with a structure that reflects the book's title. Chapters alternate between Mark trying to pull off his crazy scheme and Miles getting wind of it and trying to stop him. Events collide on Jackson's Whole, at which point the story takes a left-field turn that I don't think many readers were expecting. The scale of the book suddenly explodes, incorporating a return to Barryar, our first encounter with Aral and Cordelia Vorkosigan for many novels and some expert commentary on the changing state of Barrayaran society. Then there is a sprint for the finish, taking in explosive action sequences and an extraordinarily disturbing torture sequence that might even make Scott Bakker flinch (okay, probably not).

Mirror Dance is certainly the most epic book in the series to date, revisiting past plot points, characters and events on a scale not before seen (contributing to its unusual length compared to the previous volumes). But Bujold maintains a tight reign on the narrative and backs up the expanded canvas with some impressively nuanced character development. Around for the opening and finale, Miles sits out a large chunk of the novel as Bujold explores Mark's character in impressive depth. Even more remarkably, Bujold uses Mark to develop Miles and his shifting cover identities despite him not being around for a good third of the novel, and also to catch up on some characters we haven't seen for a while.

There's also the feeling of change in this book. The political situation on Barrayar, simmering in the background of many volumes, feels like it is now coming to a head with events in this novel confirming that the new generation - that of Gregor, Miles, Elena and Ivan - is coming into its own. The events of this novel seem to shake Miles's position as commander of the Dendarii, whilst  the explosive changes on Jackson's Whole could reverberate across the galaxy. There's a feeling of Bujold loosening things up in this book, essential for any long-running series, and ensuring that readers will want to proceed into this book's direct sequel, Memory, immediately.

Mirror Dance (*****) is a remarkable book and easily the best in the series to date, more than deserving of its Hugo Award. It starts as another military SF adventure, turns into a combination of mystery and political thriller and then skews briefly into action overdrive before concluding with a bleak moment of horror that - apparently - is turned into a positive outcome. Bujold's enviable skills with writing and character make it all seem natural. The novel is available now as part of the Miles Errant omnibus (UK, USA).

Paul Kearney's UMBRA SUMUS delayed due to title clash

Paul Kearney's first Warhammer 40,000 novel, Dark Hunters: Umbra Sumus, was originally announced for publication by the Black Library for May of this year. It was then sneakily brought forward to the start of this month, meaning that it should have been out already. Unfortunately the book was pulled at the last moment due to a problem with its name.

Not Umbra Sumus, which is fine, but the series title, Dark Hunters. In WH40K lore, the Dark Hunters are a Space Marine chapter tasked with tracking down and destroying a Chaos Marine chapter known as the Punishers. Even by the grim standards of the setting, the Hunters are noted for being resolute and not much fun at parties.

The problem with this is that there is a quite well-known series by American  urban fantasy superstar Sherrilyn Kenyon, also known as Dark-Hunter (I'm assuming the hyphen and singular title is what BL missed when seeing if the term was already copyrighted). It began in 2002 and now comprises 26 novels, accounting for the majority of Kenyon's 30 million+ sales. Although not often discussed on genre websites, it's one of the biggest series in the genre with sales far outstripping that of the likes of The Dresden Files.

Even the mighty Games Workshop knows better than to take on the legal forces of an author so popular she can make a logo out of her initials.

Umbra Sumus and the previous Dark Hunters WH40K material has been withdrawn and will be reissued after a title change, hopefully later this year. It's unclear at the moment if the BL will have to completely rename the Dark Hunters chapter in all of the lore as well.

Paul is also working on a new novel for Solaris, The Wolf in the Attic, which is now looking like an early 2016 release.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE TV show gets full series order

Amazon recently aired a pilot for a TV series based on Philip K. Dick's SF novel The Man in the High Castle. Driven by strong reviews, it became the most-watched TV show in the history of their pilot scheme and one of the most highly-rated. Surprising no-one, Amazon has given a full-season order for the series.

It's not clear how many episodes will be in the first season, but it should air early in 2016.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Teaser Trailer for Season 2 of LES REVENANTS

The first season of Les Revenants (aka The Returned) was a surprise hit for Channel 4 in the UK when it aired eighteen months ago. Unfortunately, the show's return was delayed by production issues but filming has finally concluded and Canal+ are planning to air the series in the summer or autumn. Hopefully UK transmission will be closer to the French dates this time around.

The new series picks up six months after the events of the first season, with the authorities investigating just what the hell happened in the town leading to the flooding and crazy rumours of dead people coming back to life. It sounds like the second season may have a slightly larger scope than the first and will (hopefully) delve more deeply into the backstory of the series.

Meanwhile, A&E are debuting the American remake of the first season on 9 March.

It's a pretty faithful-looking adaptation of the original, almost to the point of pastiche.

Friday, 13 February 2015